Converts Light the Way for the Synod on the Family
As the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family debates proposals that would change Church discipline that bars divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics from receiving the Eucharist, an open letter signed by more than 100 Catholic converts calls on Church leaders to affirm the indissolubility of marriage.
“As you prepare for the synod on the family, we hope that you will be encouraged by the multitude of lay faithful who were, and continue to be, attracted to the Church in large part because of what she proposes about the human being in her teaching about sexual difference, sexuality, marriage and the family,” states an “Open Letter to Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers,” signed by prominent Catholics who entered the Church as adults.
The signers include Scott Hahn, a leading biblical scholar and author; John Finnis, the British bioethicist; Dawn Eden, the author of The Thrill of the Chaste; and Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas sociologist. The open letter underscores a deepening anxiety felt by many Catholics who value the distinctive teachings of the Church and fear that their voices have been muffled by the media-amplified demands of Catholics who press for doctrinal or pastoral changes.
Now, they are asking the synod fathers to protect the very teachings and practices that others judge to be unmerciful and even “exclusionary” — as one synod father described the Church’s approach toward homosexuals.
“Early on, most of us would have objected to at least some elements of the Church’s teaching about such matters,” the open letter acknowledges. “Yet, as we began to notice how harmful were the effects of popular conceptions of human sexuality, and as some of our own congregations began to give way to the dominant culture — its ideas about freedom, equality, progress and its growing gnostic tendencies — each of us started to suspect that there was something right about the Church’s understanding of things.
“Unpopular though they often were, the Church’s teachings about the facts of life became strangely attractive to us. And in time, we became convinced that they expressed the deepest truth of ourselves, a truth that is both good and beautiful, howsoever demanding.” The appeal celebrates the countercultural elements of the Catholic faith, especially in an age that elevates sexual license to the level of a human right. But it also remarks on the potency of the Church’s confident articulation of these inconvenient truths, even when cultural and political elites seek to marginalize those who defend the indissolubility of marriage and Church teaching on cohabitation, contraception and homosexual relations.
Eden — a Jewish convert who has written about the corrosive impact of the sexual revolution on her own confused struggle to find a sense of self-worth, following her parents’ divorce and the trauma of sexual abuse during her childhood — still recalls the redemptive power of the Church’s message.
“What attracted me to the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality was that I saw that, if everyone in the world practiced them, including myself, none of the things that caused me such pain would have happened.”
“My parents would not have divorced. I would not have suffered sexual abuse in childhood. And, as an adult, I would not have let myself become an object and objectify others. I would have been loved for who I was and not for what I did, and I would have loved others with that same God-given charity,” said Eden, the author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints.
Some critics frame the demands of Catholic sexual ethics as unrealistic and overly harsh in a world where marriage rates have plummeted, fatherless children are commonplace, and teenagers with same-sex attraction publicly announce their new sexual orientation by high school.
During the first day of the synod, some participants called for “an end to exclusionary language and a strong emphasis on embracing reality as it is. We should not be afraid of new and complex situations,” Basilian Father Thomas Rosica said in his summary of the interventions (talks).
David Prosen, a member of Courage, the international apostolate that serves Catholics with same-sex attraction who seek to follow Church teaching, hopes the synod fathers will send a message that affirms the objective truth that has set him free.
“The Church’s teaching on the topic of homosexuality is very beautiful, and it has brought me profound freedom,” Prosen told the Register, as he compared his earlier search for affirmation in gay bars with the sense of peace he now experiences with the support of Courage.
Prosen was baptized Catholic, but had drifted away from the Church. For years, he felt angry and “frustrated, because I never asked for this. I begged God to take this away.” Then, one day, when he turned to Jesus in prayer, “I felt the Lord say to me, ‘David, yes, you did not ask for this, but you can choose whether or not to act on this.’ That is when I opened the Catechism and experienced the freedom.’ I realized I needed God. I wanted to know him and to know my faith.”
This fall, Prosen traveled to Rome to participate in an international conference hosted by Courage that launched a new book by Father Paul Check and Janet Smith: Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction. “I hoped some of the fathers of the synod would be there,” he said. “There are so many lies in our culture; my hope is that they won’t buy into the lies.”
While he was in Rome, Prosen joined a local Courage group and was deeply moved by the common experience he shared with the Italian members of the apostolate. “We have Jesus Christ; he is our hope. We need clarity, and we need love — love and truth, they need to be together.”
As the synod fathers consider proposals to bring alienated Catholics into the fold and address challenges faced by married couples and families in the 21st century, we need to remember and learn from the experience of Prosen, as well as the Catholic converts who found their true home in Rome. “Catholicism is as deep as Christianity goes in the West. When one loses confidence in Protestantism, one goes to what is deep,” Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things, told the Register.
We join the Catholic converts who signed the “Open Letter to Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers” in their call for the Church “to uphold Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage with the same fidelity, the same joyful and courageous witness the Catholic Church has displayed throughout her entire history.” And may the Holy Spirit illumine the minds and hearts of the participants and guide them to what’s true, merciful and just.
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